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Toronto the Naughty

2008_05_21Amsterdam.jpg
Photo of Amsterdam’s Red Light District by Stuck in Customs.
With all this talk about promoting tourism, all kinds of ideas have been proposed, from improving our toilets to depicting the city as a tattoo. These suggestions are a good start, but it is also important to look at one of the biggest attractions that brings people to cities: entertainment.
With all the focus on making Toronto better, maybe some of our efforts ought to be shifted to making Toronto badder.


2008_05_21Vegas.jpg
Photo of Las Vegas Boulevard by mandj98 on Flickr.
As a city that wants to attract tourists, one of the worst things we could be doing is cracking down on nightlife. Since the industry generates at least $125 million in revenue annually, how can any responsible politician hope that the Entertainment District “simply disappears”? A major gaffe in this economic sphere was raiding the Comfort Zone. Those who argue that such tourism is driven by lowlifes with no money to spend on the local economy need only to consider the case of the hedge fund manager who was a victim of entrapment at the Zone. Also, imagine if one were simply a visiting tourist from a city where parties go past 2 a.m., looking to keep the night going a little longer, when suddenly the police bust in and stomp on people’s heads. We can imagine never wanting to return to Toronto again. Thousands of tourists stream across Canada’s borders to visit Toronto’s Entertainment District every weekend, but if we allow over-enforcement to kill our nightlife, there will be nothing left for the tourists to see.
And what about last call? Imagine an advertising campaign on Montreal’s public transit that says simply, “Last call in Toronto is now 4 a.m. Bienvenue!” One of the reasons people love going to Montreal is because they can drink late.
With the loss of the Molson Indy, it may be wise to look at other proposals for Exhibition Place, specifically making the CNE Casino operational year-round. Open for a measly five weeks in the summer, the Casino could actually keep people in Toronto instead of heading down to Niagara Falls for the essential gambling road trip. If it weren’t for the AGCO, we could probably even open a few more in the city, but our plans to actually make some coin are once again foiled by the Province.
When Americans think about Canada, they think about marijuana. Tourism was definitely down during the SARS outbreak in 2003, but one of the things that probably prevented an all-out collapse of the tourism industry was The Summer of Pot, that narrow window in the warmer months of 2003 when Ontario simply had no laws on the books concerning marijuana’s legal status. People streamed in from all over to take advantage of this unique legal situation, but when the smoke cleared, there was still only one tourist-friendly pot café, The Hot Box. All other attempted café businesses have been swiftly shut down by the police, but why? Would it really be so hard for the police to look the other way while the city enjoys some extra cash from people visiting Toronto’s many hemp houses, like in Vancouver?
And finally, a little bit more “red-light district” would look good on you, Toronto. Something’s really got to be done about that brothel law.
In a city where tourism is the top industry, we could use a little more vice. Who misses Toronto the Good? Some tourists want Toronto the Naughty.

Comments

  • raches

    CZ is a drug den. I’m glad that they raided that place. The casino idea and last call sound good.

  • rek

    The number of tourists coming to Canada has dropped below the number recorded in 1972, when they started keeping track. The number of Yanks coming north has fallen 14% recently.
    I didn’t even know there was a casino in the city, but if it’s only open 5 weeks a year it’s no wonder. We’re losing tourists and out-of-towners to Niagara and Barrie on that front alone.

  • Threnody

    I think the point is that, drug den or not, it’s frequented by otherwise productive members of society who are simply having a good time on the weekend. Is that really so horrible?

  • Ben

    The article you linked to above doesn’t mention anything about entrapment. I think that is a fabrication on the part of the author.

  • panko

    What? Hedge fund managers can’t possibly do drugs? And raiding a club alleged to harbor “open drug dealing” (according to police – we’ll see how many charges will stick, in the end) is a gaffe that somehow affects our tourist economy? Kevin, get a grip.
    Another beauty: “When Americans think of TO they think marijuana.” Really? I lived in the States and most of my friend and colleagues would point to universal health care before the weed.
    Sorry, man, but this is article isn’t worth the HTML code it’s written in.

  • Rajio

    There are so many things wrong with this article that its difficult to even begin addressing them. The intentions the article seems to have are fine but the article is just so poorly done that it does the subject of Toronto nightlife tourism a huge disservice. Come on Kevin.
    Best/worst part of the article? “When Americans think about Canada, they think about marijuana.” …. lol. You can’t make this stuff up.

  • leeeah

    Another post by Kevin Bracken about Comfort Zone/Entrapment/extending drinking hours…. yawn.

  • xprincex

    Haha. Well, this most likely is one of those tongue-in-cheek articles which, unlike the others, does not really refer to anything particular and, hence, is difficult to be seen as a sarcastic piece of writing that it is.
    So, in case it was not intended to be sarcastic, here are my thoughts. I think nobody would contest the fact that tourism and entertainment are crucial to any metropolis. However, arguing that more drugs, more drinking, and more gambling is the way to go, is just absurd. I for one would not want Toronto to be thought about as the place where one can get pissed, get some prostitutes, and then do drugs while gambling the night away. I’d rather the Americans and the other prospective visitors see Toronto for the quality of life, culture, and uniqueness in its own right and not the collector of trash that this article seems to imply we should be.
    And comparing Montreal is just silly – Montreal has that vibe that Toronto does not and it is not because of the vices. It is because of the awesome events, because of the great life, because of the nature, the French, the old town, and tons of other things that make Quebec what it is. Toronto cannot compete with it, so narrowing it down to the last call at 4am is just absurd. I just hope that we have some other things that tourists would be interested in.

  • panko

    I was wondering: Torontoist has an editor David T) and an assistant editor (Marc L). Did you guys read this article before it was posted (or did anyone read it, including the author)? I really don’t have a problem with someone expressing an idea (even if I think it’s flawed) but I am surprised how little writing and reasoning discipline this post exhibits. I’d expect a better argument, with better factual intel to back it up than a concoction of hear-say or made up assertions.

  • David Topping

    I read and approved this article before it was published. I do not agree with everything in it (as is the case with most other articles published here that I don’t write myself), but I think it’s an interesting, different take on the tourism issue. (A Torontoist vs. Torontoist article about tourism is planned, with two other writers, but it’s only tentative and may not happen.)
    I’ve asked Kevin to back up the facts of his argument here. If there was a mistake, we’ll gladly issue a correction and an apology.

  • spacejack

    Not that I want to see people in the tourism industry put out of work, but it’d be nice to think the city would otherwise be just fine if tourism all but dried up.
    Ever been to Europe in the summer? Fun to visit and party in for a while, but I think it’d be a nightmare living in a city that relies too heavily on tourists. Even then, the kind of lifestyle promoted in the article is really only fun for a small part of your life.

  • Kevin Bracken

    I don’t know about you, but I visit the U.S. quite a bit, all over the country. The most common response to “I live in Toronto” that I get is, “Oh my god, I heard weed is legal there!” Seriously. Americans don’t know much about Canada, but they definitely know about weed. In fact, I think there’s a joke that goes something like, the only thing Americans know about the metric system is grams, har har.
    As for poor Matthew MacIsaac, he was set up by a cop. The definition of entrapment is a little different everywhere, but essentially, this police officer got him to commit a crime he otherwise would not have committed without her request for drugs.
    And yes, it is a major gaffe. The Comfort Zone is known around the world as a place to hear some of the world’s greatest DJ on a world-class soundsystem. Having performed outreach there with a city-funded health organization, I can tell you that the “flea market” thing is just a lie. They search people, and kick out users and dealers. Now that it got raided, that is one fewer attraction in Toronto.
    After the raids, we are no longer allowed to perform health outreach services at the Comfort Zone. It is considered too dangerous because of the potential for chaos – by the police.
    Anyway, glad you guys like the article :) It is not one major thing that will solve the tourism downturn, but correcting many small deficits , many of those caused by puritanical laws. Might I remind you that my suggestions require no capital investments, just a little moral loosening?
    I see a lot of, “Well we don’t want their business anyway.” Suit yourself.

  • alyce

    I love Montreal because the legal drinking age is 18 and the bars rarely card…
    I love Detroit because the booze is cheap and everywhere…
    I love New York because there is graffiti to see…
    And I visit those places because of that.

  • quest

    “The Comfort Zone is known around the world as a place to hear some of the world’s greatest DJ on a world-class soundsystem.”
    You’re joking, right?

  • Tony Wonder

    There are soooo many studies/profiles/reports on the tourism industry in Toronto. There is a lot of data on who comes to Toronto, why they come here, how much they spend, where they spend their money and why.
    It would be helpful if some of this data made its way into these types of articles – I’m not suggesting a long, boring (and labour intensive!) analysis, but a little bit of research would be enlightening. (BTW, I mean enlightening to the author as well as to we readers).
    At this point, it sort of feels like the author is projecting his own interests onto those of the millions of people who visit this city every year. One harassed hedge fund manager doesn’t exactly make for a compelling argument about how, why and where people spend their money in the city.

  • elliot

    I think making toronto more of a party city could be great for tourism but i don’t think places like the comfort zone are the right sort of party attraction.

  • user8909

    Great article Kevin.
    Toronto is a large city; and as suggested by pro-’Province of Toronto’ politicians and groups, including urbanist diva Jacobs herself, its success as a city solely relies on its detachment from provincial-wide laws, allowing for a certain juridical autonomy.
    Many comments fail to realize the heterogeneity that defines a metropolis. A metropolis caters to larger social/ethnic groups, and in the sake of the argument is more unplanned than planned. The resulting dichotomy and dynamism makes it the interesting place it is; therefore a unique destination to visit. Guys, please leave your new-urbanist ideologies away from Toronto or move to Celebration, FL!

  • Skippy the Magical Racegoat

    I’m all for the idea of extending last call (not for tourists, but for alcoholics like myself), but until and unless the subway starts running later, I think it’d be a disaster.
    Bunch of drunk U.S. tourists all stumbling out of the bar to find they have to wait for the vomit comet? No, thanks…

  • beth maher

    That was sort of my thought too.
    There are a lot of really interesting ideas here, even if I’m not sure I would love all of them to be implemented (weed for instance makes me physically ill, and I would NOT love to see it smoked on every street corner – just making it through college was bad enough thank-you-very-much).
    The last call thing especially – while it may seem like a great idea – would actually be pretty hard to implement, simply because the TTC MUST close down for repairs at night. It’s just not practical until we can change the infrastructure – which may not happen for a really long time (transit city, anyone?).
    I’d love to see more smaller ideas that might actually change things instead of big ones that are completely impractical and impossible to implement.
    Not that this little bit of writing wasn’t interesting.
    Dudes, you need to recognize an editorial for what it is: personal opinion. It’s not that hard. No interviews in an article=editorial=personal opinion=something you might disagree with personally, but them’s the breaks of an editorial.

  • rek

    Why does the subway have to be running for extended bar hours? Major cities in Asia, like Seoul and Osaka, shut down their far more extensive subways at midnight, although last call extends well into the early morning. Increase buses on the Blue Line perhaps, but it’s not the TTC’s responsibility to provide subway service whenever people are done getting wasted.
    And what about the rest of the city? What can Toronto beyond the downtown and Yonge strip do for the entertainment/tourist industry?

  • scottd

    Blaming the AGCO is a bit unfair and an oversimplification as in 1997 the citizens of the old City of Toronto turned down casino/charity casino/video lotto terminals questions in a vote by a margin of just over 2 to 1.
    Opinions on gaming may have changed but that was the reality then.
    Today, because gaming is so about money and politics, all 3 provincial parties and the AGCO are loath to open a Toronto casino for fear that it will severely hurt other existing casinos especially in Niagara. That is the political reality. It was spelled out last year in a government report that can be found online. That report also discussed whether gaming revenue would increase or just fracture. There is also a fair amount of debate as to whether a downtown casino in Toronto would do much for tourism as these days casinos are much more common place, especially in the US. Before a Toronto casino can be opened these political and economic realities have to be figured out and even then Woodbine would probably be the location.
    I am not suggesting that every blogger has to be an expert on every topic they write about but in this case the lack of background information and current context is very apparent.
    I would also add that the statement ” A major gaffe in this economic sphere was raiding the Comfort Zone. ” made me laugh. Where are tourists going to get their helping of Toronto raised lice now? I had no idea that the CZ was so important.

  • Kevin Bracken

    Nobody really seems to realize the Zone was so important because it is so far outside of the “comfort zone” of people who read blogs like this. But quite simply, the Zone is internationally famous, and most of the people it attracts are just really serious about house music.
    A recent event like “Freedom” at Guvernment or Danny Tenaglia at CiRCA attracts people from all over Ontario and Quebec, as well as parts of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, sometimes even Minnesota and further.
    After the main party is over, if you’re serious about house music, Comfort Zone (used to be) the place to go. Some people looked as much forward to going to the Zone as they did the main party. CZ lives on, but wounded, we hear. It’s sad, and people from all over the continent are mourning it. Even if it tends to attract the same people every time, it’s one less feature that Toronto has.
    As for the subway, I don’t see why it has to stay open, although I’d love it if it did. Most tourists stay downtown, and they would be drinking downtown too. If they can’t walk, they can take the 501 streetcar, or a cab – that’s what tourists do.
    And the state of gambling is pretty pathetic. There is a Google Ad from this post for a casino boat cruise on Lake Ontario. You get 10,000 “play dollars” with which to gamble, and you can win tickets which can be used in an auction at the end of the night. Laaaaaame.
    I am aware of the past conflicts about casinos in Toronto, and I am of the “increased revenue” persuasion. If Toronto decided that one of the things it was known for was casinos, then people would stream in from all over, looking for games. I liken it to Reno and Las Vegas – they don’t really compete because different kinds of people go to each city to gamble.
    Plus imagine all the great stuff the city could do with the tax revenue from gaming.

  • matty

    I have absolutely no idea what you just wrote. I mean, I read it, and then I read it again, but still, nothing.
    And why would Danny Tenaglia only attract people from the northeast? And why pennsylvannia specifically?
    Actually a better question: What?

  • matty

    Oh and I just read the article.
    “When Americans think about Canada, they think about marijuana. Tourism was definitely down during the SARS outbreak in 2003, but one of the things that probably prevented an all-out collapse of the tourism industry was The Summer of Pot, ”
    omg lol. This can’t be serious can it?

  • Ben

    It is serious, it just lacks anything other than anecdotal evidence.

  • Kevin Bracken

    Because Danny Tenaglia plays in other places, so only people from the Northeast would come to the Toronto event. Durr.
    And jesus, haven’t any of you guys ever talked to an American?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KGNYM_cRMsU
    Watch this video. It’s a Global report about how people come to Canada to smoke pot, and how Canadians rank #1 for marijuana consumption globally. I think some of you are in denial.

  • matty

    “Because Danny Tenaglia plays in other places, so only people from the Northeast would come to the Toronto event. Durr.”
    He plays anywhere but the northeast?
    Isn’t this a flyer for NYC?
    http://www.dannytenaglia.com/?id=78
    WHAT are you talking about homey?!
    Also I am an American and I do not associtae toronto with pot. If anything I think of the CN tower and an abundance of english pubs.

  • matty

    And who are the rogue Minnesotians who go to guvernment. Are they like a gang? Have you met them? Please tell me more about these clubbing people from Minnesota.

  • Kevin Bracken

    Yup, I’ve met some of the Minnesotans, and the Pittsburghers, and the New Yorkers who came to see Tenaglia at CiRCA. Some of them are up here every month. You may be able to tell from my previous posts on the subject, but there are no clubs like CiRCA in New York, nor have there been since Peter Gatien was deported.
    Cielo (Tenaglia’s NYC stop) is about the size of Sneaky Dee’s upstairs, over half of which is seated bottle service. Nothing to write home about.
    I see I’m feeding the troll.

  • matty

    “Yup, I’ve met some of the Minnesotans, and the Pittsburghers, and the New Yorkers ”
    So who you’ve met so far are the only people who have been to this place?
    Do you see where your logic might be failing?

  • andrew

    Generally, I agree with you on this one Kevin, but you didn’t present your ideas in the most persuasive way.

  • rek

    Matty, please go back to just saying “awesome”. It was such an improvement over your usual fare.

  • Marc Lostracco

    I hear the marijuana thing from Americans all the time, although they’re usually talking about B.C. As I mentioned way back in this comment, I also think that Toronto should be subtly promoting some of our off-the-beaten-path “attractions” to tourists that they can’t get elsewhere, like our full-nudity strip clubs (many U.S. cities don’t have these), the nude beach, same-sex marriage, casinos, whatever.

  • pman

    It’s kind of already happened. I’ve worked for international banks for years, and have met a lot of financial sector people from NYC and London (England). The three things they seem to know about Toronto – to the extent we register on their consciousness at all – are that our climate really truly sucks, our homelessness is rampant, and our lap dancing is way better value for money than in their own cities.

  • DynamicUno

    I’m an American. I’ve travelled to Toronto with ever increasing frequency for the last five years, directly as a result of the nightlife and club community in this city. And I do not travel alone.
    I’ve brought friends up from Pennsylvania when I lived there (some of whom now live here). I’ve brought friends up from Buffalo and Rochester, many of whom continue to come up regularly. I’ve even brought friends from my time in the Army up here, and they come back when they can too. Why?
    I’ll give you a hint – it’s not for the zoo.
    Toronto has one of the most vibrant night life communities in the area, despite the best efforts of certain city council members. But if their efforts succeed and the entertainment district “disappears,” well, so do I, and all those others as well.
    We love Toronto. The people are friendly, the food is great, and the culture is excellent. But it’s the nightlife that brought us, it’s the nightlife that keeps us, and it’s the nightlife that will lose us if you take it all away.

  • covergirl

    Wow DynamicUno, I totally agree with you. We are Americans a 5 hour drive from Toronto and also frequent the nightlife a number of times per year.
    We have also met people from Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and elsewhere in Toronto. Why do they come you ask? Well look around, what are your options if you are an American living in the Great Lakes region or the interior north east? You have millions of people living in these areas where the nightlife, well, leaves a lot to be desired to say the least. Toronto is a 5 hour drive away for a huge amount of the population.
    Someone mentioned NYC, well first of all NYC is further than Toronto for a lot of us. Second, even though we have noticed a slight decline in the nightlife in Toronto in the last few years (maybe we are just getting old), NYC just doesn’t compare these days. It has taken a real hit there. Still a great city for lounges and other reasons though.
    Whats great about Toronto is that now, we don’t even have to rely on the nightclubs. We have different groups of friends that we have made in Toronto- so we come and stay with people and party without going to nightclubs. Still, when we come, we spend money on all types of things ranging from food to consumer goods.
    So to anyone in Toronto gov’t who is taking note, listen to the comments above- it is the heterogeneity of your city which attracts the tourists. You start chomping away at the unique things about your city (which is not the CN Tower by the way), you start eroding your tourist base even further, especially at a time when the price of gas and the weak dollar are eroding tourism.